Bill Holab on Leland Smith and SCORE


Here are Bill Holab’s unabridged remarks about Leland Smith and SCORE, as provided by Bill Holab to Sibelius Blog.

1985 brought a small revolution to the publishing industry as a company named Aldus released a program called PageMaker. That, coupled with the new Macintosh computer (with its 9” screen) and an Apple Laserwriter ushered in the era of Desktop publishing and opened the door to the do-it-yourself paradigm that persists to this day. But in the music publishing industry, we had no Pagemaker. Many had tried to develop a comparable program for music notesetting, but few of the people doing this work truly understood music engraving practices, so the results were crude and unprofessional.

In the late 80’s, one program came along that showed promise. It was written in Fortran and used a pen plotter to create printed output. Written by Leland Smith at Stanford University, it combined a number of simple but powerful concepts that gave it great potential. A simple graphic program, it ran in MS-DOS, had a wireframe display that was crude but accurate, and it organized all the elements of a music page into categories (codes 1-18), with each “code” item defined by a series of numeric parameters that controlled the appearance of the object. Like all DOS programs at the time, it could be operated without a mouse, allowing the user to input every type of object by typing, and to edit anything from the keyboard.

Leland took the time to visit all of the major publishers to show them SCORE version 1. It didn’t use any fonts (even for text, Leland had a stick figure font) and you couldn’t edit text strings without digging into ASCII code. The manual read like geometry textbook and talked a lot about “vectors” since the program doesn’t draw any curves, but uses short straight lines to create curved objects.

We all saw the potential in the program and patiently worked with Leland to develop the program into a working professional tool. The program comes with libraries of symbols for the music objects (clefs, noteheads, et al). Schott provided their clef designs for Leland to incorporate into the program. We created many extra symbols that were added to the list of objects. And, most importantly, we convinced Leland to abandon his stick font and put in the capability to use PostScript text fonts. These changes eventually led to version 2, which was the first iteration of the program that was used for serious publishing work.

Around this time, a now-defunct company named Passport Designs took over the program and brought on one of their staff programmers, Perry Devine, to work on SCORE. Perry partnered with Leland, added some improvements that gave the program a crude menu capability and other behind-the-scenes functions, and Passport Designs hired me to write all new technical manuals that were released together with version 3 of the program. This was the most mature version of SCORE and is generally the one most people continue to use today.

SCORE was always intended as a program to typeset music. It is ill-suited to music composition/arranging, since a large work must be split into many separate files (sometimes 4+ files for a single orchestra page) and copying/pasting music is cumbersome. Automatic page/measure numbering is not possible without using extra programs, and support for modern computer hardware is non existent. Many people have written third-party add on programs that extend SCORE’s functionality, but in today’s publishing world where we must manipulate large amounts of data and repurpose it for different tasks, SCORE falls short. Re-orchestrations, massive revisions, creating alternate versions, all are costly and time consuming.

The first large-scale work we typeset on computer in New York City was Charles Mingus’ Epitaph, in a new version created by Gunther Schuller. It was started in Finale ver. 1 and it quickly became apparent that Finale was not robust enough to finish preparing score and parts for this 2 hour work. We did half of it in SCORE, a process that (at the time) was far faster and more efficient. For about 10 years SCORE was the program of choice for high-end publishers around the world.

SCORE was the first program that gave us the ability to efficiently create professional music pages. With care and dedication, we created methods that streamlined our workflow no matter what type of music we were preparing, traditional metric notation or complex non-mensural graphic scores. This was not limited to classical music publishing; the program excelled at many other types of music like guitar tablature, which made it an essential tool for companies like Hal Leonard Corp. And thanks to Leland Smith’s patience and willingness to listen to publisher’s needs, the program ushered in computer note-setting to our entire industry.

—William Holab


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